Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Sean Paul Murphy, Writer
Sean Paul Murphy, Storyteller

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Grave Tales #33: Norman Myers "Chubby" Chaney

I am an avid genealogist. The past is very important to me. I spend a lot of time in cemeteries photographing tombstones to upload on website the FindAGrave.

I enjoy recognizing long dead people by putting memorials to them online. However, every once and a while something grabs me about a specific grave. It could be the name, or the dates or a ceramic photo. In those cases, I feel compelled to dig a little deeper. That's what this series of blogs is about: The tales behind those graves. Some of my subjects will be heroes. Some will be villains. Some will be victims. And some will linger in between, like most of us. However, don't be surprised if the tales are inherently tragic. These are grave tales. They all end in death.

In this blog, I return to Baltimore Cemetery to tell the story of Norman Myers "Chubby" Chaney, who won a nationwide talent contest in 1929 to become a member of Hal Roach's Little Rascals. When I was growing up you could watch short films by comedy teams like Laurel & Hardy, The Three Stooges and The Little Rascals* every morning before school. I always enjoyed The Little Rascals, especially the early talkies when Chubby was a member of the troupe. I particularly enjoyed the films where happy-faced Chubby competed with Jackie Cooper for affection of their teacher Miss Crabtree. 

Norman "Chubby" Chaney

I normally avoid writing about famous people. I prefer to dig into unsung lives. However, since my last few blogs have been pretty grim, I wanted to shine a light on someone who brought joy into the lives of millions of people, myself included. Okay, I'll confess. I was mainly planning to use this blog as an opportunity to embed a bunch of old short films I enjoyed. Sadly, since the newly restored remasters were released, most the unauthorized postings of Little Rascals material has been removed from YouTube. But don't worry, I'll still include a couple clips of Chubby in all of his rotund glory.

Here's a story from Doris Denbo's Hollywood gossip column:

Los Angeles Evening Citizen News (Los Angeles, California), 5 August 1929, Mon:

Little by little the famous old "Gang" is breaking and growing up. Joe Cobb, the famous fatty of Hal Roach's Rascals is leaving the gang forever and going freelancing. Another "fatty" has been signed by Robert McGowan, "Gang" director. He is Norman "Chubby" Chaney. (No, it's not Lon Chaney in another disguise -- nor any relation to him), but he is a young fellow who made good on the recent nation-wide contest conducted by Loew's Theaters, Inc., to find child personalities for "Our Gang." He was signed today on a long term contract. Chubby, but nine years old, weighs 106 pounds and measures 47 inches in height, almost the exact measurements of Joe. The Hal Roach Gang now consists of "Wheezer," Mary Ann Jackson, Farina, Harry Spear, Chubby Chaney and Pete, the dog. They will start work again August 26 when Hal Roach opens his studio once more.

Hal Roach's Little Rascals, circa 1929. Farina,
Pete, Chubby, Wheezer, Mary Ann, Jackie Cooper.

Here's another short story:

The Knoxville News-Sentinel (Knoxville, Tenn), 21 August 1929, Weds:

Replacement....

Norman "Chubby" Chaney, 8, has replaced Joe Cobb in Hal Roach's "Our Gang" comedies. The little roly-poly favorite was getting $500 a week and "Chubby" is working cheaper. Farina, the negro youngster, is said to be slated to go soon, also. "Chubby" got his job as the result of a contest staged thruout the country in Loew theaters.

If you noticed, two different ages were given for Chubby in the newspaper stories. Apparently Chubby's mother lied about his age -- making him younger -- when he entered the contest. If Chubby was really eight-years-old in 1929, that meant he was born in 1921. According to his tombstone, Chubby was born in 1914. That meant he was fifteen-years-old when he joined the troupe, and that was around the age when members were replaced! I would like to see the documentation for the 1914 birthdate. He certainly doesn't look like he is fifteen or sixteen in the films.** 

Regardless of his age, Chubby soon became a fan favorite. Here's some of the publicity photos the studio put out periodically.

In the earliest days of talkies, producer Hal Roach had his biggest stars make Spanish, French and German language versions of their films. The stars, who couldn't speak the languages, had to learn the dialogue phonetically. Here's a publicity shot of Chubby and the rest of the Little Rascals learning to speak Spanish from January 1930:


Here's a shot of Chubby and Mary Ann Jackson having fun on the golf course from December 1930:


Here's a photo of Chubby being fed a banana by Dorothy De Borba from July of 1931:


Chubby was so popular that he became merchandized. You could buy "novelty" soap shaped like him. Here's an ad:

I wonder if anyone still has one of those....

Sadly, by 1932 Chubby's time with the Little Rascals was over. When Hal Roach produced the series, they were strict about the kids being kids. The performers aged out of the troupe relatively quickly. Chubby replaced the original fat kid Joe Cobb. Now he found himself being replaced by a four-year-old fat child named Bouncy Wertz.

The Long Beach Sun (Long Beach, CA), 23 March 1932, Wed:


Long Beach Lad Gets Berth
With 'Our Gang' Company

     Harold E. Wertz, Jr., son of Mr. and Mrs. Harold E. Wertz, 6542 Falcon Avenue, had no idea of being the new little fat boy to succeed Chubby Chaney in Hal Roach's Our Gang motion picture comedies. But two months ago, when Chubby grew too tall for the part and the studio advertised for a new fat boy, a neighbor woman saw the notice and sent it over to Harold's mother. So, now he is Bouncy Wertz and has already completed two pictures.
     Bouncy is four years old and weighs sixty-seven pounds, a great deal of his weight having been added during the past year. His mother says Bouncy has increased his circumference without adding much to his stature.

Bouncy Wertz

Chubby's movie career only last three years and consisted of twenty-two short films. In comparison, Bouncy had a much shorter tenure with the Little Rascals. Only three films.... I have no memory of him at all.

There were stories in the papers of other film projects with Chubby, but none of them materialized. Chubby was forced to capitalize on live appearances to make money and maintain his fame. Here are some advertisements for a few of them:







I can't help but think it must have been devastating for Chubby's ego to go from being a successful, beloved movie star to showing up at department stores to shake hands in the radio department. Nowadays, the psychological problems many child stars experience after their careers end are better known. Sadly, I couldn't find any interviews with him that expressed his thoughts.

Chubby and his mother returned to Baltimore to live with her parents, but his days were numbered. He would be the first member of the Little Rascals to die.

The Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), 30 May 1936, Sat:


MOVIE "FAT BOY"
DIES SUDDENLY HERE
-----
Norman Myers Chaney Had
Four-Year Career in "Our
Gang" Comedies
-----

     Norman Myers Chaney, who had a four-year-career in moving pictures as the fat boy in Hal Roach's "Our Gang" comedies, is dead.
     His death occurred suddenly early yesterday at the home of his grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. William H. Myers, with whom he lived, at 2565 West Lombard street.
     As late as Thursday evening, the grandparents said, Norman, apparently in usual health and spirits, had been playing with neighborhood companions.

Effect On Heart

     Physicians attributed his death to the effect on his heart of a glandular condition -- the same condition, it is believed, that qualified him by his weight for his motion-picture role.
     Recently, however, his weight was only 136 pounds, Mr. and Mrs. Myers said. On his return to Baltimore from Hollywood in 1934, it was 143.
     The son of William T. and Carolyn Myers Chaney, Norman was chosen the local winner at Carlin's Park in September 1929, of a nation-wide contest to choose a successor to Joe Cobb. The original fat boy of the Our gang films, Cobb had grown too old for the role.

In 72 Cities

     In the finals Norman eliminated other local competitors in the contest, which was held in seventy-two major cities and attracted more than 2,000 entrants.
     In Hollywood the winner made two contracts of two years each and became a favorite, it was said, in the film colony. One of his best friends was Tom Mix.
     At the termination of his second contract he made a personal appearance tour of the United States, then returned to his home here. Becoming ill last year, he went to the Johns Hopkins Hospital for treatment of the glandular ailment and apparently, said his grandparents, had overcome it, in part, at least.
     Funeral services for him will be conducted at the Myers home Monday at 2 P.M. by the Rev. L.O. Forqueran, of the Holy Cross Episcopal Church. Burial will be in the Baltimore Cemetery.

At the time of his death, Chubby's family did not have the money to place a marker on his grave. Many decades later, in 2012, fans, led by musician Mikal C.G., rectified the situation. They put markers on the adjacent graves of Chubby and his mother. I wish I had heard about the crowd-funded project in time to contribute.... 

As I said earlier, most of the Little Rascals/Our Gang material has been removed from YouTube, but here are a few clips you might enjoy. I recommend checking out the films themselves. They are delightful.

 

 

If you would like to visit Chubby's grave, do not use the GPS function on the Findagrave app. Someone put in the wrong position. The grave, however, is easy to find. When you enter the cemetery make a right and follow the road down. The grave will be on the right about a third of way down. It is about five rows back, but it is clearly visible from the road if you know what it looks like.


Remember, there is a story behind every grave. You never know what you're missing when you walk past one....

*The film series was always called Our Gang. The stars were Hal Roach's Little Rascals. However, when the films were licensed for television, the Hal Roach produced films were called The Little Rascals. The later films, produced by MGM, were called Our Gang.

**Facebooker Cindy Shugars Kohl checked Chubby in the census. Here's what she found out: In the 1920 Census he is 5 1/12 years old. The data is recorded as the 9th of January 1920. I would estimate his birthdate to be December 1914. The 1930 Census dated 26th March 1930 shows his age as 11, estimated birth year 1915.

Grave Tales:

My novel Chapel Street is now available! You can buy the Kindle and paperback at Amazon and the Nook, paperback and hardcover at Barnes & NobleChapel Street is the tale of a young man battling a demonic entity that has driven members of his family to suicide for generations. It was inspired by an actual haunting. 


Learn more about the book, click Here.

Listen to me read some chapters here:


Read about the true haunting that inspired the novel here:

The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 1, An Introduction
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 2, The House
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 3, This Is Us
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 4, Arrival
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 5, Methodology
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 6, Clara's Tale, Pt. 1
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 7, Clara's Tale, Pt. 2
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 8, My Tale, Pt. 1
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 9, My Tale, Pt. 2
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 10, My Tale, Pt. 3
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 11, Natalia's Tale, Pt. 1
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 12, Natalia's Tale, Pt. 2
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 13, John's Tale, Pt. 1 
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 14, John's Tale, Pt. 2
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 15, Come Inside!
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 16, Marion's Tale, Pt. 1
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 17, Marion's Tale, Pt. 2
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 18, Jeanne's Tale, Pt. 1
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 19, Jeanne's Tale, Pt. 2
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 20, Lisa's Tale
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 21, Recap, Pt. 1
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 22, Recap, Pt. 2
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 23, Recap, Pt. 3

Let's stay in touch:

Follow me on Twitter: SeanPaulMurphy
Follow me on Facebook: Sean Paul Murphy
Follow me on Instagram: Sean Paul Murphy
Subscribe on YouTube: Sean Paul Murphy

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Yippee-Ki-Yay Mother Podcast #128: Kantara

Here's another exciting ZOOM edition of the Yippee-Ki-Yay Mother Podcast, a lively discussion of the movies that sometimes devolves into a group therapy session. 

In a rare departure from our normal format, Ralph, Deborah and myself review a film currently playing in the theaters. Our fans in India requested that we check out the film Kantara starring Rishab Shetty, who also wrote and directed it. The movie was another wild ride of the sort we have come to expect from Indian cinema. Check it out.

BTW, don't worry. Although they hadn't seen the film, the other Mother Podcasters show up to tell us what they've been watching.

Here's the trailer for film:

          

Here's the podcast on YouTube:

    

Our Podcast is available on iTunes: Yippee Ki Yay Mother Podcast
Subscribe to our YouTube page: Yippee Ki Yay Mother Podcast
Check out our webpage: Yippee-Ki-Yay Mother Podcast
Like us on Facebook: Yippee-Ki-Yay Mother Podcast.
Follow us on Twitter: YKYPodcast

Other Episodes:
1. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)2. Marathon Man3. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three4. Hellraiser5. Cinema Paradiso6. The Night Watchmen with actor/producer Ken Arnold7. Black Dynamite with producer Matt Richards8. The Spanish Prisoner9. Special: Presidents Day LaserDisc Hunt10. Natural Born Killers11. Slap Shot12. mother!13. Ladies' Choice14. That Thing You Do! with one hit wonder Lee Bonner15. Body Heat16. Three Days of the Condor17. Martyrs18. Beautiful Boy19. The Princess Bride20. Miracle Mile with Casting Director Billy DaMota21. Waterworld22. Smokey and the Bandit23. The Thing From Another World24. The Hudsucker Proxy25. Goldfinger26. Superman27. LA Confidential28. Little Miss Sunshine29. UHF30. The Witch31. The Haunting (1963)32. Mad Max: Fury Road33. The Counselor34. Raiders of the Lost Ark35. The French Connection36. The 33 with Lou Diamond Phillips37. Round Robin: Mise En Scene II38. Run Lola Run39. Young Frankenstein40. Mud41. The Spitfire Grill42. This Is Spinal Tap43. Singin' In The Rain44. The Hospital45. Klute46. Be Kind Rewind47. Round Robin: Halloween Films48. The Descent49. The Commitments50. Galaxy Quest51. Phantasm52. The Bride of Frankenstein53. Arlington Road54. Round Robin: Holiday Films55. A Christmas Carol (1951)56. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation57. Western Showdown58. Sports Films Showdown59. Buddy Films Showdown60. Vampire Films Showdown61. Wind River62. 3 Day Weekend with filmmakers Wyatt McDill and Megan Huber63. The Shawshank Redemption64. Donnie Brasco with former Mafia associate Kenji Gallo65. Promising Young Woman66. My Favorite Year67. Fletch68. A Hard Day's Night69. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood70. Round Robin: Movie Biographies71. Round Robin: SNL Cast Films72. Working Girl73. Fatal Attraction74. Round Robin: Gangster Films75. Round Robin: Teen Comedies76. Round Robin: Time Travel Films77. Barcelona78. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb79. Nightcrawler80. Wings Of Desire81. The Sting82. Thief83. Round Robin: Scary Movies84. Forbidden Planet85. Friday the 13th Part 5 A New Beginning with star John Shepherd86. Round Robin: Nicolas Cage Films87. Round Robin: Christmas Recommendations 202188. Thunderbolt and Lightfoot89. A Face In The Crowd90. Stir Crazy91. Any Given Sunday with KC Chief Eric Hicks92. Cool Runnings93. Soylent Green94. Ladies Choice 295. Special Oscar Edition: The Power of the Dog,  96. Round Robin: World War II Films97. Round Robin: Biblical Epics98. Born Yesterday,  99. The Vanishing (Spoorloos)100. Airplane!101. Ready Or Not102. They Call Me Trinity103. Streets of Fire104. Round Robin: 1980s Action Films105. Round Robin: Based on a True Story106. What Are We Watching?107. Guilty Pleasures108. Taxi Driver with LA Times Reviewer Gary Goldstein109. The Ninth Configuration110. Chungking Express111. The Maltese Falcon112. Bad Day At Black Rock113. The Green Knight114. Notting Hill115. Citizen Kane116. (500) Days Of Summer117. Odd Man Out118. One From The Heart119. Seven Samurai120. RRR121. Baahubali: The Beginning122: Sardar Udham123. Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil124. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)125. Tumbbad126. This Is Spinal Tap with Joe Macre of Crack The Sky127. Andhadhun128. Kantara


My novel Chapel Street is now available! You can currently buy the Kindle and paperback at Amazon and the Nook, paperback and hardcover at Barnes & Noble.


Learn more about the book, click Here.

Watch the book trailer:

  

Listen to me read some chapters here:

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

John Quattrucci wants to read your book!



My Yippee Ki Yay Mother Podcast co-star John Quattrucci has always been an actor and decided he'd like to read some audio books. He asked if he could read a chapter of each of my books as a sample. How could I refuse? I think he did a better job than I did reading it.  Check it out....

   

The sample must be working because he's already been getting assignments. If you're an author, check out his ACX page here: John Quattrucci.

He might be just the voice for you!

My novel Chapel Street is now available! You can buy the Kindle and paperback at Amazon and the Nook, paperback and hardcover at Barnes & NobleChapel Street is the tale of a young man battling a demonic entity that has driven members of his family to suicide for generations. It was inspired by an actual haunting. 


Learn more about the book, click Here.

Listen to me read some chapters here:


Read about the true haunting that inspired the novel here:

The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 1, An Introduction
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 2, The House
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 3, This Is Us
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 4, Arrival
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 5, Methodology
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 6, Clara's Tale, Pt. 1
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 7, Clara's Tale, Pt. 2
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 8, My Tale, Pt. 1
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 9, My Tale, Pt. 2
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 10, My Tale, Pt. 3
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 11, Natalia's Tale, Pt. 1
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 12, Natalia's Tale, Pt. 2
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 13, John's Tale, Pt. 1 
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 14, John's Tale, Pt. 2
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 15, Come Inside!
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 16, Marion's Tale, Pt. 1
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 17, Marion's Tale, Pt. 2
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 18, Jeanne's Tale, Pt. 1
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 19, Jeanne's Tale, Pt. 2
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 20, Lisa's Tale
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 21, Recap, Pt. 1
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 22, Recap, Pt. 2
The Haunting of 21 St. Helens Avenue, Part 23, Recap, Pt. 3

Let's stay in touch:

Follow me on Twitter: SeanPaulMurphy
Follow me on Facebook: Sean Paul Murphy
Follow me on Instagram: Sean Paul Murphy
Subscribe on YouTube: Sean Paul Murphy

Friday, November 11, 2022

Yippee-Ki-Yay Mother Podcast #127: Andhadhun

Here's another exciting ZOOM edition of the Yippee-Ki-Yay Mother Podcast, a lively discussion of the movies that sometimes devolves into a group therapy session. 

We polled our YouTube subscribers about what film they wanted us to review next. They chose the 2018 Indian black comedy Andhaddun. It was an excellent choice! This might be my favorite Indian film to date. The film, about a blind piano player who witnesses a number of murders, features an excellent script that keeps upping the ante with surprising left turns and great performances, particularly by Tabu as the film fatale. This film screams American remake, please! Check it out.

Here's the trailer for film:

        

Here's the podcast on YouTube:

 

Our Podcast is available on iTunes: Yippee Ki Yay Mother Podcast
Subscribe to our YouTube page: Yippee Ki Yay Mother Podcast
Check out our webpage: Yippee-Ki-Yay Mother Podcast
Like us on Facebook: Yippee-Ki-Yay Mother Podcast.
Follow us on Twitter: YKYPodcast

Other Episodes:
1. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)2. Marathon Man3. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three4. Hellraiser5. Cinema Paradiso6. The Night Watchmen with actor/producer Ken Arnold7. Black Dynamite with producer Matt Richards8. The Spanish Prisoner9. Special: Presidents Day LaserDisc Hunt10. Natural Born Killers11. Slap Shot12. mother!13. Ladies' Choice14. That Thing You Do! with one hit wonder Lee Bonner15. Body Heat16. Three Days of the Condor17. Martyrs18. Beautiful Boy19. The Princess Bride20. Miracle Mile with Casting Director Billy DaMota21. Waterworld22. Smokey and the Bandit23. The Thing From Another World24. The Hudsucker Proxy25. Goldfinger26. Superman27. LA Confidential28. Little Miss Sunshine29. UHF30. The Witch31. The Haunting (1963)32. Mad Max: Fury Road33. The Counselor34. Raiders of the Lost Ark35. The French Connection36. The 33 with Lou Diamond Phillips37. Round Robin: Mise En Scene II38. Run Lola Run39. Young Frankenstein40. Mud41. The Spitfire Grill42. This Is Spinal Tap43. Singin' In The Rain44. The Hospital45. Klute46. Be Kind Rewind47. Round Robin: Halloween Films48. The Descent49. The Commitments50. Galaxy Quest51. Phantasm52. The Bride of Frankenstein53. Arlington Road54. Round Robin: Holiday Films55. A Christmas Carol (1951)56. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation57. Western Showdown58. Sports Films Showdown59. Buddy Films Showdown60. Vampire Films Showdown61. Wind River62. 3 Day Weekend with filmmakers Wyatt McDill and Megan Huber63. The Shawshank Redemption64. Donnie Brasco with former Mafia associate Kenji Gallo65. Promising Young Woman66. My Favorite Year67. Fletch68. A Hard Day's Night69. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood70. Round Robin: Movie Biographies71. Round Robin: SNL Cast Films72. Working Girl73. Fatal Attraction74. Round Robin: Gangster Films75. Round Robin: Teen Comedies76. Round Robin: Time Travel Films77. Barcelona78. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb79. Nightcrawler80. Wings Of Desire81. The Sting82. Thief83. Round Robin: Scary Movies84. Forbidden Planet85. Friday the 13th Part 5 A New Beginning with star John Shepherd86. Round Robin: Nicolas Cage Films87. Round Robin: Christmas Recommendations 202188. Thunderbolt and Lightfoot89. A Face In The Crowd90. Stir Crazy91. Any Given Sunday with KC Chief Eric Hicks92. Cool Runnings93. Soylent Green94. Ladies Choice 295. Special Oscar Edition: The Power of the Dog,  96. Round Robin: World War II Films97. Round Robin: Biblical Epics98. Born Yesterday,  99. The Vanishing (Spoorloos)100. Airplane!101. Ready Or Not102. They Call Me Trinity103. Streets of Fire104. Round Robin: 1980s Action Films105. Round Robin: Based on a True Story106. What Are We Watching?107. Guilty Pleasures108. Taxi Driver with LA Times Reviewer Gary Goldstein109. The Ninth Configuration110. Chungking Express111. The Maltese Falcon112. Bad Day At Black Rock113. The Green Knight114. Notting Hill115. Citizen Kane116. (500) Days Of Summer117. Odd Man Out118. One From The Heart119. Seven Samurai120. RRR121. Baahubali: The Beginning122: Sardar Udham123. Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil124. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)125. Tumbbad126. This Is Spinal Tap with Joe Macre of Crack The Sky127. Andhadhun128. Kantara


My novel Chapel Street is now available! You can currently buy the Kindle and paperback at Amazon and the Nook, paperback and hardcover at Barnes & Noble.


Learn more about the book, click Here.

Watch the book trailer:

  

Listen to me read some chapters here:

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Writer Tip #37: Non-Disclosure/Non-Disparagement Agreements

Remember the #MeToo Movement? Kinda made a big splash in Hollywood a few years back. Elsewhere, too.

As the press, legal commentators and social justice warriors everywhere processed the true revolting scope of the scandal, one thing became abundantly clear to everyone: The monsters in Hollywood, sexual or otherwise, only managed to avoid the repercussions of their actions for as long as they did because of the ruthless use of Non-Disclosure Agreements.

NDAs were declared unethical tools of repression. It was agreed no just person should use them. Everyone in Hollywood cheered. Justice had come at last....

Well, not everyone cheered. Some folks began thinking: Those Non-Disclosure Agreements sound like a pretty good deal. What worked for Harvey Weinstein  -- for a while anyway -- could work for me too.

I don't know what the official criterion is for "entering" the film business. My first feature was produced in 2003. However, I personally put my entry in 1992 when I got my first real agent. That's thirty years. Prior to the #MeToo movement, I had only been asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement once. Here's the story.

Around the time my third film was being shot, my former partner and I were approached by a director about writing a script for him. We were familiar with him and we were delighted to have a chance to work with him. He said he could tell us all about the story, which was based on a life-story he had already acquired, after we signed a non-disclosure agreement.

He emailed us the agreement. We were aghast. The document was quite onerous. If I remember correctly, it even mentioned a penalty amount ($100,000) if we discussed the project in an unauthorized manner. My partner and I weren't inclined to sign the agreement, and I called the director and said so.

I asked why he even thought such an agreement was necessary. It was a life story and he had already secured the rights. It isn't like we could steal it. He was apologetic. He said he had hired a lawyer to set up the paperwork for the project and this was one of the many documents he provided. I told him the agreement was outrageous. The terms were so vague that I could lose my house if I accidently talked in my sleep and my wife heard it. The director said he would redo the agreement and send it back to us. He never did. 

My partner and I didn't get the assignment. And we never lost a minute of sleep over it.

That was the last non-disclosure agreement I saw until recently. Now, every document that crosses my desk has one. And it's not just me. Other screenwriters seek my advice periodically. Non-disclosure agreements have been showing up in their contracts as well. It's a thing now.

I don't like it.

First, if they include a non-disclosure agreement in an option or a purchase agreement, they are not treating you like a professional. They'd get laughed in their faces if they sent an NDA to a member of the WGA. As a union member, you are required to submit all employment contracts to the union. Therefore, a non-disclosure agreement is a non-starter. This is one of the reasons why, after fourteen produced features, I am WGA or Bust on all projects from here on out. I'm tired of having to deal with BS like this. 

Secondly, I doubt the producer or production company adds a NDA because the contract is good. Trust me, if they were sending you a good, generous deal, they'd want you to go around bragging about it.  They'd send out a press release to the trades. No. To me, a non-disclosure agreement is a definite warning sign. Sometimes they even tell you what they're afraid of. Check out this non-disclosure agreement on a contract I recently rejected:

"Each of the Parties hereto do agree to maintain as private and confidential the terms of this Agreement. If any inquiry is made by a third party concerning this Agreement, each Party hereto shall disclose no more than that the matter has been amicably resolved to its satisfaction pursuant to a confidential termination and release agreement. In the event that any Party hereto is served with process to compel the production of any documents concerning either this Agreement, each Party hereto agrees to immediately notify the other Party of the service, so that said Party may object and resist the production of this Agreement as a confidential and privileged document. Each Party further agrees to give notice to the other Party in the event it is served with applicable process."

In other words, if I receive a summons in a criminal or civil case regarding something pertinent to the agreement, I have to share it with the company -- perhaps tipping them off to potential legal action -- and they still get to determine whether I can speak in the matter. As someone who had to testify for seven brutal hours in a lawsuit simply as a witness, I find that clause unethical. It would have been ridiculous -- and patently unjust -- if I had been unable to say anything but "I am legally unable to answer that question." When I see a clause like that, it makes me wonder how many times they've been sued.

Another non disclosure agreement a friend of mine recently shared with me in a script option allowed him to speak freely if they were summoned to speak in a legal proceeding. That, at least, was a nod in the direction of ethics.

Then there's the Non-Disparagement Clauses. What's up with them?

They're even more insane.

They're not included to protect the producers or production companies from libel. Libel is against the law. The legal system has already provided remedies to libel. They're not included to protect the producers or production companies from slander either. Once again, there are existing laws against slander and proscribed penalties.

Non-Disparagement Clauses exist instead to prevent you from telling THE TRUTH about the producers and production companies. That's right. Why else include one? The people who include these clauses must know from past experience that left to their own devices, their business associates would say bad things about them. The natural human response to disparagement would be to treat people well so that such clauses are unnecessary. However, if you want to treat people like garbage without having to worry about your reputation, non disparagement clauses were made for you.

Count me out.

I have been offered a few contracts with non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements and I have said no. I left money on the table, and I do not regret it. I can't say I will never sign a contract again with a non-disclosure and non-disparagement clauses. I might, but I will be suspicious of the deal. I'm no lawyer, but to me those clauses are a red flag that I'm about to get screwed.

Your experiences might be different than mine. Leave a comment below and tell me if you signed a contract with those clauses and everything worked out well. Be sure to leave all of the details....

Ooops. That's right.

You can't.

Beware.

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